So vegetarians and vegans do not have to worry about a balanced diet because of a lack of meat.
Vegetables have proteins, although in smaller amounts than the typical animal products.
That being said, if you are vegan, it would be beneficial to mix up their foods so they can get all 20 amino acids into their bodies.
Foods like beans (all kinds), nuts, and seeds are fantastic sources of protein! Not only that, these foods are filled with vitamins and minerals that are needed for optimal function, and many of these are not found in meats. There are really high-quality options for protein from whole, unprocessed foods. Today, you can find these in any grocery store, so the options are out there! Check out this list here for a variety of options!
Beans and legumes of all kinds, from kidney beans, to lentils, to chickpeas, to black beans, the list goes on, and they are all great sources of protein. All the “Blue Zones” incorporate beans as a staple part of their diets. I recommend varying your choices so you get a wider variety of micronutrients when possible.
Additionally, nuts and seeds are great sources of proteins and healthy fats as well. Again, variety is key, but all of them will be great choices for vegans when it comes to protein.
Now, if you are vegan or are choosing to become vegan, I recommend working with a healthcare provider to monitor any potential nutrient deficiencies that can arise. If you do not supplement properly, you will not get enough B12 and could have other issues associated with the other nutrients listed above.
Regardless of whether you want to become vegan for political reasons or health reasons (I have worked with patients under both umbrellas), my goal is to make that lifestyle choice as sustainable and healthy as possible.
Let’s start with B12. B12 is only found in animal products, therefore a strict vegan lifestyle will lack this vitamin. If you choose not to eat eggs or any other animal products I would strongly suggest bringing this up with an educated doctor and supplement accordingly. If you do choose to eat eggs, then you should not have this problem so long as they are a part of your meals going forward.
Now for iron. Some vegetables, like spinach and broccoli, nuts, seeds, and lentils, will have iron in them. Therefore, if you are vegan, I strongly suggest you consume these foods frequently. Now, an interesting twist with iron, and this applies for zinc as well, plant forms are iron are different than animal forms. The plant forms are much more difficult for humans to absorb as the animal forms. It does not mean that as a vegan you cannot get enough iron, but you really have to make sure you are incorporating these foods that are high in iron pretty frequently. This is even more of an issue for menstruating women, as that is the population that deals with iron deficiency anemia most often.
Zinc, similar to iron, is not as well absorbed from plant foods compared to animal foods. Plant foods high in zinc are peas, lentils, spinach, lima beans, and asparagus, just to name a few. Symptoms of low zinc levels are delayed sexual development, growth retardation, loss of taste or smell, delayed wound healing, and loss of appetite, so it is something to watch out for.
Finally, we get to omega-3 fatty acids. The goal of an ideal meal plan should be to increase consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids, while decreasing intake of omega 6 fatty acids, trans fatty acids, and saturated fats.
What makes a fat a “good fat” or a “bad fat” depends on its function within the body, mainly its effects on the lipid (fat) bilayer membrane that surrounds every cell in our bodies. Cellular membranes are made almost entirely of fatty acids. The fatty acids incorporated into these lipid bilayers are determined by the types of fats we consume on a daily basis.
For example, a diet high in saturated fat, trans fats, and animal fatty acids, and cholesterol (such a margarine, shortenings, and hydrogenated vegetable oils) results in a much less fluid, permeable membrane compared to a diet containing optimal levels of unsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
What does this mean? Modern pathology clearly states that changes in cellular membrane function is a central factor of virtually all diseases known to man today. In the case of diabetes, for example, eating the “bad fats” leads to abnormal cell membrane structure and function, impairing the actions of insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
Good plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids include chia seeds, flaxseeds, brussel sprouts, and walnuts, just to name a few.
I hope you found this helpful! Good luck going forward, any questions feel free to reach out.
Hope this helps!